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Part One

Now that we’ve released
this season’s Top 40 Prospects list,
it is time to return to
a tradition we started last season,
to objectively evaluate our list from a year ago and see what we can learn.

As we did last season, we will compare our ranking of each player with the
ranking given to them by two premier publications, Baseball America
and John Sickels’s Minor League Scouting Notebook. Sickels ranks 50
prospects, awards "Honorable Mention" to five others, and gives a
letter grade ranking (A+ to C-) to more than 800 players.

We’re making one significant change from last season: whereas last year, we
simply reviewed our comments on each player, this season we’ll also assign
a grade to each ranking. More than a way to score the prognosticators on
how well they rank prospects, this is a way for us to determine which
prospects exceed or fail to reach expectations, and why.

The grades will be awarded on a seven-point scale, which works roughly like
this:

  1. Has massively missed projections
  2. Has significantly missed projections
  3. Has modestly missed projections
  4. Has met projections
  5. Has modestly exceeded projections
  6. Has significantly exceeded projections
  7. Has massively exceeded projections

Don’t take these grades too seriously: the point isn’t to judge each
prospect individually, but to come back at the end and see if any
conclusions can be drawn from the pool of prospects as a whole.

32. Adam Piatt, 3B, Oakland (BA: #93, Sickels: #49)

What we said last year: "Piatt got all the hype for winning the
first Texas League Triple Crown since 1922, but more impressively, he won
the Quadruple Crown by tying for the league lead in walks. Make all the
cracks you want about Midland’s ballpark, but if you hit .345/.451/.704 on
the moon, you’re a prospect. He’s not going to move Eric Chavez off third
base, but his bat and batting eye should get him to the major leagues in
some capacity."

What he did in 2000: Piatt started the year in Triple-A and his
numbers took a tumble, particularly his power, as he hit just eight home
runs in 65 games. Nevertheless, he was called up in late April for an
audition and went 10-for-30 with three triples and two homers. He was sent
back to Sacramento in early May, but returned for good in mid-July and
played all four corners while batting .299/.392/.490 in 60 games, including
an astonishing .369/.470/.643 against left-handed pitchers.

Take-home lesson: Minor-league numbers do matter, and even when
Piatt’s Double-A performance was adjusted for his home park and his age,
his numbers were too good to be ignored.

Grade: Piatt is a good example of how we can’t grade a player based
simply on whether his on-field performance improved. No one expected Piatt
to hit as well as he did in 1999, and even with his 1155 OPS at Midland,
there was considerable skepticism as to whether he could handle
major-league pitching. While Piatt did stumble in Triple-A, his EqA with
the A’s in 2000 (.296) was actually higher than his EqA with Midland in
1999 (.285). He went from a Double-A slugger with some question marks to
the A’s #1 right-handed bat off the bench with a chance at a full-time job
this year. That’s a 5 in my book.

31. Jon Garland, RHP, Chicago (AL) (BA: #32, Sickels: B)

What we said last year: "…Garland was scuffling a bit when
the Cubs traded him, but 18-year-old pitchers usually do. In 1999, Garland
moved all the way to Triple-A, throwing one of the most impressive outings
of the Triple-A World Series, something 19-year-old pitchers don’t usually
do. He’s a high-risk commodity, both because he’s so young and because the
light switch turned on awfully abruptly."

What he did in 2000: The youngest pitcher in the International
League for the first half of the season, Garland went 9-2, 2.26, albeit
with peripheral numbers (99 hits, 32 walks and 63 strikeouts in 104
innings) that weren’t that impressive. The White Sox looked at his
record and ERA and ignored the baserunners and the modest strikeout totals,
and rushed him to the majors, where he went 4-8, 6.46 and kept the Indians
in the AL Central race for a little longer than the Sox would have liked.

Take-home lesson: Don’t trade 18-year-old former #1 picks for middle
relievers. I think the Cubs have finally passed that lesson. While we harp
on how risky young pitchers are, teams will always be seduced by them as
long as guys like Garland make quantum leaps from one season to the next.
Garland’s struggles in the major leagues is a reminder that ERA doesn’t
tell you everything: Garland led the International League in ERA when he
was called up, but his mediocre peripherals were a red flag that he wasn’t
ready for the promotion.

Grade: Despite his excellent performance in A ball and seven good
starts in Double-A in 1999, few expected Garland to come on this quickly.
His strikeout-to-walk ratio in Double-A was only 27/18, a sign that he was
still a long way from the majors. Instead, by mid-season you could argue
that Garland was the best pitching prospect in baseball, and even though he
was rushed to Comiskey, he has an excellent shot at making the rotation
this spring at age 21. After only a little debate, Garland is awarded a
6.

30. Michael Restovich, OF, Minnesota (BA: #26, Sickels: #42)

What we said last year: "The last of the Twins’ troika of
outstanding young hitters, Restovich is a Minnesota native who ‘slumped’ to
a .312/.412/.513 performance in the Midwest League last year, after hitting
.369/.489/.613 In his 1998 debut. There were several players who hit as
well as Restovich did in the low-A leagues, but few of them were as young
and multi-talented as Restovich, and none of them could claim that they
were having an off-season."

What he did in 2000: Like almost every top prospect in the Twins’
organization, he struggled. Restovich showed up to camp in
less-than-perfect shape and spent the rest of the season trying to melt
away the fat, hitting just .263/.350/.408 in the Florida State League and
having his defense called into question. The FSL a tough hitters’ league,
especially for power, but those numbers are just not that impressive for a
player whose calling card will always be his bat.

Take-home lesson: There will be plenty of time to sit on the couch
and do nothing after you retire, fellas. Intangible-bashers that we are,
there’s something to be said for a player who shows a commitment to excel
12 months out of the year, and those who take the off-season literally do
so at their own risk.

Grade: Restovich’s EqA in 2000 dropped from .236 to .215, a
significant drop for a player ostensibly in the rapid-growth phase of his
career. He’s gone from future All-Star to a guy who may never be more than
a role player in one season. That’s a bad year, and it earns Restovich a
2.

29. Marcus Giles, 2B, Atlanta (BA: #74, Sickels: B)

What we said last year: "After a 1998 season that seemed too
good to be true (.329, 37 home runs, 85 walks), Giles’s performance in 1999
looks like someone let all the air out of the balloon. That’s not the case:
Giles was facing a much tougher brand of competition in the Carolina
League, and while his homers dropped from 37 to 13, he still hit 40 doubles
and had a .326 batting average. The pivotal skill for Giles isn’t his
power, which is still there, but his defense. He was, by most accounts, an
improved second baseman last year."

What he did in 2000: Giles continued his slow, methodical trek
through the minors, taking the trickiest step, the one to Double-A. His
batting averaged dropped 36 points, but everything else held steady: he hit
17 home runs and 28 doubles, he drew more walks than strikeouts, and he set
a career high with 25 steals in just 30 attempts. His EqA dropped from .252
to .242, but his defensive numbers and reputation both improved from
marginal to average.

Take-home lesson: A lot of guys put up big numbers in the low minors
without great tools, and many of them do wash out. But when a player like
Giles puts up big numbers and is young for his level–Giles was just 20
when he pulverized the Sally League–don’t let the scouting reports cloud
your evaluation of his performance. Giles may be 5’8", but he can play
the big man’s game at second base.

Grade: Giles’s outlook hasn’t changed much the last two years; he’s
the only player to make our Top 40 list three years running. His defense
improved a notch last season, his offense dipped maybe a half-notch.
Ordinarily you’d like to see a prospect post slightly more substantial
gains than that, but that climb to Double-A is not something at which to
scoff, and many scouts thought he would crash and burn once he reached the
high minors. Giles is the very definition of a 4.

28. Ed Yarnall, LHP, New York (AL) (BA: #55, Sickels: #20)

What we said last year: "…Yarnall was on this list last year,
and while the Yankees’ depth trapped him in Triple-A for most of 1999, he
used his time wisely, improving his control and refining a repertoire that
is equal parts power and guile. For a rookie pitcher, he’s about as
low-risk as they come: he’ll be in the low-pressure role of the #5 starter
for one of the best-run organizations in baseball."

What he did in 2000: After coming into spring training with a spot
in the Yankees’ rotation waiting for him, Yarnall pitched so badly in March
that he lost his rotation spot and was sent back to Columbus. He was
missing both stamina and effectiveness, posting a 4.56 ERA and averaging
less than five innings a start. He made a spot start for the Yankees in
early July, but got blasted for five runs in an inning, sealing his ticket
to Cincinnati in the Denny Neagle deal. Yarnall reported to Louisville and
was marginally more effective, but still didn’t approach his performance of
1999.

Take-home lesson: Putting too much stock on spring training
performances can be very dangerous, but sometimes March work is a harbinger
of bad things to come. Yarnall pitched like a man who wasn’t fully healthy
all season, and clearly that’s what the Yankees must have seen in spring
training that caused Yarnall to lose a spot in the rotation that was all
but guaranteed.

Grade: Yarnall’s performance was all the more shocking because his
experience and consistency were his most alluring traits. He started the
year as a legitimate Rookie of the Year contender and ended it as a project
in another organization. We’d be well within our rights to award him a
grade of 1, but his modest recovery with the Reds earns him–by the skin of
his teeth–a 2.

27. Matt LeCroy, C, Minnesota (BA: #44, Sickels: #30)

What we said last year: "…LeCroy was so impressive in 1998
[his debut year] that he briefly touched down in Triple-A, but was sent
back to the Florida State League in 1999. Even for a player with his
experience, to hit 20 homers in 89 games in the FSL is impressive stuff,
especially for a catcher. LeCroy spent the final month of the season in
Triple-A and slugged over .600, which adds bite to the argument that he
could be the best power-hitting catcher in the league by 2001."

What he did in 2000: He opened the season as the Twins’ starting
catcher, but after a hot first week his bat started appearing on milk
cartons. His batting average drifted under .200 on May 2 and never
re-emerged, falling to a season-low .170 before he was sent down on June
18. He returned in mid-September to go 4-for-20, and in between spent some
time in Double-A doing remedial work. He did hit .282/.391/.508 in Double-A
and .308/.348/.615 at Salt Lake City, and managed to avoid joining the Gang
of Four in whining about Tom Kelly. Nevertheless, LeCroy became just the
eighth player since World War I to hit under .180 in more than 150 at-bats
in his debut season.

Take-home lesson: Avoid Twin prospects. And remember that not every
minor league slugger and respected former first-round pick makes a smooth
transition to the major leagues, especially when that player had just 32
games of experience above A ball before the season began. LeCroy might have
simply been overrated as a hitting prospect, but don’t count out the
possibility that he might simply need more time to adjust to the major
leagues than most top prospects. Just ask the seventh player since World
War I to hit under .180 in over 150 at-bats in his debut season: Phil
Nevin
.

Grade: It’s true that LeCroy was rushed to the majors and it’s true
that his minor-league EqAs in 2000 (.246 and .250) were slightly better
than his minor-league EqAs in 1999 (.234 and .239). But it’s going to take
time to wash away the bitter aftertaste of his time in Minnesota. LeCroy is
one of the few players who doesn’t fit nicely into a grade–he’s somewhere
between a 2 and a 3–but since we had him ranked higher than anyone else,
we’ll own up to our poor judgment and give him a grade of 2.

26. Aubrey Huff, 3B, Tampa Bay (BA: #98, Sickels: B)

What we said last year: "…Huff went straight to a full-season
league after he was drafted in 1998, and immediately hit .321 with power
and good defense. The Devil Rays challenged him again in 1999, pushing him
to Double-A, and he again hit over .300, this time with 65 extra-base hits
and more patience. Without yet developing a seminal skill, Huff has such an
impressive overall game that, as a left-handed-hitting third baseman,
comparisons to Robin Ventura are not only inevitable, but warranted."

What he did in 2000: He did great. The Devil Rays did lousy, seeking
out the overpaid, overrated, over-the-hill Vinny Castilla to play
third base while Huff quietly went to Triple-A and hit the stuffing out of
the ball once again. His batting average (.301 to .316), OBP (.385 to
.394), and slugging average (.530 and .566) all improved even as he made
the climb to Triple-A; his EqA improved from .246 to .279. He finally got a
call-up in August when Castilla’s back mercifully sidelined him, and hit a
very respectable .287/.318/.443. His defense did take a bit of a tumble,
prompting thoughts that his future may lie at first base if Castilla wins
back the third-base job this spring.

Take-home lesson: Huff was overlooked as a prospect by most
evaluators, and the only explanation we have for the snub is that his
skills are so broad-based that he doesn’t have one eye-catching talent that
might have attracted more attention. We’re frequently dismissed by the old
school as statheads, which is silly, because we don’t really care what the
stats are: we care what the stats mean. We didn’t see Huff as a line of
numbers on a page, we saw a player with the three essential attributes of a
good hitter: average, power, and plate discipline. A player who displays
all three of those skills isn’t putting all of his eggs in one basket.
Huff’s across-the-board excellence gave him a strong enough foundation to
weather the climb up the minor-league ladder as well as the assault from
Castilla.

Grade: Huff’s long-term position is less settled than it was a year
ago, but even so he took a quantum leap forward. A year ago, he appeared to
be a solid prospect that was completely buried by the Castilla trade. But
merely solid prospects don’t have the talent to create their own destiny,
as Huff has, and force their organization to push aside veteran hitters to
make room for them. Huff was our #26 prospect last year, and if we had not
foolishly assumed he was ineligible this season, would have jumped into our
Top 10. That’s a clear grade 6.

25. Eric Gagne, RHP, Los Angeles (BA: #49, Sickels: #16)

What we said last year: "…Gagne had Tommy John surgery and
missed the entire 1997 season, but in the last two years has averaged well
over a strikeout per inning while going 21-11 with a 3.13 ERA in the
minors. Burn this into your skull: Tommy John surgery, if the new ligament
takes to the elbow, can restore the arm as good as new. In some cases,
better. Gagne had the most impressive September call-up of any pitcher,
allowing just 18 hits in 30 innings with a 2.10 ERA. He’s in a great park,
and Davey Johnson has a long history of success with rookie pitchers."

What he did in 2000: His elbow continued to hold up, but Gagne’s
performance with the Dodgers–5.15 ERA, 166 baserunners in 101 innings in a
great pitchers’ park–was quite a disappointment, especially after his cup
of coffee in 1999. He struggled with both his command and his propensity to
give up the long ball, a bad combination, and landed in Triple-A for a
time. He pitched quite well there (a 3.88 ERA in Albuquerque is
outstanding, as is a K/BB ratio of almost 4-to-1), and given that he had
jumped straight from Double-A to the majors, the fact that he handled the
PCL as well as he did is a good sign that his future remains bright.

Take-home lesson: As fashionable as it is for teams to promote their
top prospects directly from Double-A, it’s still a far riskier strategy
than giving them a half-season or more in Triple-A first. And for the
millionth time, don’t get too excited over small sample sizes. Sure, Gagne
had a fabulous five-start audition in LA in 1999. And Jimmy Haynes
gave up just 11 hits in 24 innings in his debut for the Orioles in 1995.

Grade: There’s no doubt that Gagne had a bad rookie season, but in
fairness to him, he skipped Triple-A and the lack of experience showed. If
he had posted the exact same numbers as he did last year, but had instead
started in Triple-A, pitched well, and then gotten promoted to L.A., his
season would be perceived more positively. It’s a close call, but Gagne’s
future is still bright, so we’ll be charitable and award him a grade of
3.

Rany Jazayerli is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by
clicking here.